Four years ago, The Basketball Tournament did not exist. Now, it’s becoming a staple of ESPN’s summer lineup.
On Tuesday, ESPN and TBT announced a multi-year partnership that will keep the final rounds of the $2 million winner-take-all tournament on national TV.
— Eben Novy-Williams (@novy_williams) March 7, 2017
According to a press release, ESPN will increase coverage of TBT in future years after seeing ratings from from 2015 to 2016. Last July, ESPN aired all 15 games from TBT’s Super 16 onward, including 11 on ESPN networks and four online at ESPN3. The semifinals and finals aired on the main ESPN station.
“It’s exciting that ESPN recognizes the power of TBT to reach the new age, young, sports audience. What started as a fun idea among friends has grown into a major, annual basketball event,” said TBT founder and CEO Jonathan Mugar. “ESPN has been a tremendous supporter of TBT since the beginning, and we’re thrilled to continue our relationship with ESPN increasing its coverage and promotion to help us reach even more fans.”
“The TBT audience on ESPN continues to grow, particularly among younger demos, and it’s great competition with former college and NBA players competing against everyday athletes for a big prize,” ESPN executive Burke Magnus said. “We are proud to continue ESPN’s association with TBT and offer even more exposure of the event this summer.”
The Basketball Tournament, for those who don’t know, has a simple premise: Anyone can join, with the winner taking home $2 million (the number has increased since the tournament’s inception) and all runners up going home empty-handed.
In the past, TBT has attracted alumni teams from Syracuse, Michigan State, Kentucky, Gonzaga, Memphis, Villanova and more, though the past two tournaments has been won by a unit called Overseas Elite, which featured former college stars like D.J. Kennedy, Myck Kabongo and Kyle Fogg.
It will be interesting to see what kind of ceiling TBT has. Though the tournament’s competition has improved over the three years it has been held, it’s never going to attract the type of top-flight talent that will attract tons of viewers. The college alumni teams tend to be popular among alumni of those schools, but that’s a necessarily niche audience. For now, TBT is good filler programming for ESPN during some quiet months on the sports calendar, which is probably more than its founders ever imagined.